ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
Members' Window # 85  
by Joanne and Emmett Eldred
(click on photos to enlarge image)


The following is the first in a series of papers, which discuss several of the criteria we use in evaluating pieces we collect. These discussions will highlight our approach when considering form, originality of teapot and stand combinations, engraving, hallmarks, condition, and crests & coats-of-arms. In most cases we have used pictures from our modest but growing collection to illustrate what is being described.

As is the case with collecting almost anything, the initial learning curve can be quite steep. Being fairly new to the subject it certainly applied to us. Our initial screen involved only two basic areas; form and hallmarks. Our assessment of form was subjective and based solely on our personal tastes at the time. Of course having seen only a few examples we did not have a broad reference base and therefore were unaware of the variety of designs produced during the later part of the 18th century. Our second screen was centered on hallmarks. As noted earlier, one advantage in collecting English silver is its hallmarking system. Fortunately we were able to locate several excellent Websites for researching hallmarks, especially maker's marks. Looking back on things we were very lucky with the majority of our early purchases. We could have made some costly mistakes because we did not realize that several other key factors, such as crispness of the engraving, absence of repairs, surface patina, presence of an identifiable coat-of-arms or crest, etc., significantly contributed to the desirability and therefore the value of a set.

Over time we became more knowledgeable and ultimately developed a pretty rigorous set of criteria for evaluating pieces we were interested in purchasing. Our approach currently involves a number of assessments (form, originality, engraving, hallmarks, condition, crest), which we will describe over a series of articles.

Part 1: FORM

How aesthetically pleasing is the overall teapot and stand design? For us this determination still remains fairly subjective but now it is based on having studied pictures of hundreds of examples. Questions we typically ask ourselves focus on such things as: how appealing is the overall design and proportions of the teapot body; does the shape and stance of the stand effectively balance the mass of the teapot; how well are the handle and finial integrated into the overall design; how carefully planned is any engraving and does it add or distract from the overall statement. We also have some quirky criteria related to form. For instance we have a strong preference for teapots with straight spouts and only rarely consider purchasing ones with shaped spouts. We also like teapots with an engraved crest or coat-of-arms, and believe the addition of a crest/arms within a cartouche helps complete the overall design and adds to the charm of a teapot and stand. Also, we are now at a point in our collecting where variety is becoming more of a consideration.

We picked three examples to try to illustrate some of the above points.

The first is a teapot and stand by Peter and Ann Bateman. It is difficult to garner from the picture but the teapot is quite substantial in size, its body measuring 5 ĺ inches across. This created a design challenge for the artists since they needed to somehow downplay the breadth of the teapot body. They accomplished this in several ways. They incorporated an inverted arch to define the top of the teapot and then added a somewhat exaggerated dome for the lid. They also added a broad band of engraving to the top of the teapot body giving the illusion that the main body was the area without engraving, and this impression was reinforced by centering the cartouche in the middle of this field. To further emphasize the vertical they capped the piece with a perfectly-proportioned, carved pineapple finial. In combination, these design elements were quite effective in downplaying the horizontal and emphasizing the vertical.

To maintain horizontal symmetry and balance, the artists chose to closely equate the height and relative protrusion of the handle and spout. Since both the handle and spout radiate upward, they provide what might be termed "upward lift" to the piece. Elevating the teapot on an oval stand supported by four delicately scrolled feet adds a sense of lightness while at the same time providing a bit of stature to the overall statement.
Peter and Anne Bateman 1798
The second example is by Robert and David Hennell, and as in the previous case this teapot is quite large with the body measuring a little over 6 inches across. It seems the design goal of the artists was to create a teapot that conveyed a feeling of importance. Therefore they chose to use the teapotís substantial horizontal mass to achieve this. First, they engraved a series of horizontal lines at the top of the teapot and then centered a large cartouche in the remaining field. The serpentine-shaped front highlighted the cartouche, which they further emphasized by framing it with protruding flat surfaces on either side. The end result: someone hardly notices the teapotís body mass but rather is drawn immediately to the central cartouche. (Actually it seems almost a shame that the cartouche houses an engraved initial rather than an elaborate crest or coat-of-arms.)

While the domed lid and ivory finial add a bit of vertical dimension, they also seem to impart a regal feel to the piece and almost give the impression of a crown.

There is also a sense of functional activity incorporated into the design. The black ebony handle attached by means of long handle brackets minimizes the apparent protrusion of the handle on the left side, while the greater length and curved tip of the spout emphasize that functionality resides on the right side.

Also, as with the previous example, the teapot sits prominently on a conforming-shaped stand, which is supported by four delicately scrolled feet.
Teapot and stand: Robert and David Hennell 1795 (left) and Cartouche engraved with "R" initial (right)
The last example was made in the shop of Hester Bateman in 1783 (Hester was in her early 70s and likely her sons, Peter and Jonathan, were overseeing her shop on a day-to-day basis). It is considerably smaller than the previous two examples (the body measuring a bit less than 5 inches across), so the width-to-height proportions of the teapot body were less of a design concern. However, because the teapot had a simple oval shape the engraving and overall proportion became key factors for the success of the final design. In this case the artists decided to add a stepped, slightly domed lid to add a bit of height to the teapot body. They carried this theme through to the finial, which mimics the domed lid, even down to the silver button on top.

In order to add a bit of elegance and tie the elements together, the artists engraved bands at the top and bottom of the body to frame a center field, in which they engraved an elaborate cartouche. This cartouche has a floral motif, which was a primary design motif favored by the Hester Bateman shop throughout most of the 1780s. To further add interest as well as integrate the various components, they added beaded edges surrounding the teapot lid and base and also the edge of the stand (this machine-formed beading was something the Bateman shop produced - and likely sold - and is found on a large number of their teapots)

The simple handle and spout are perfectly balanced, and compliment the design primarily by not distracting from the proportions and engraving of the main body. The four ball-and-claw feet) on the stand add a bit of additional elegance to the presentation (another design preference of the Bateman shop).
Hester Bateman 1783
The three examples discussed date from 1783 to1798. Even though the teapots presented different design challenges, we feel in each case, the artists were able to successfully create a statement that has lasting appeal.Of course, personal taste plays a major role with art, since truly "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". Therefore our judgment as to the appeal of any given form might well be different from someone elseís, but then thatís what makes life interesting.
Joanne and Emmett Eldred
- 2011 -